What is it Like to Study English and Comparative Literature?

books and readerSome readers have asked what it is like to study English in our distance learning program. I have been thinking about how to describe the experience, and what my practical approach to degree study would be if I were starting the program today. For me, the program has been such a marvelous experience that starting over today would be a delight. The required courses are very interesting with the opportunity to focus on such a variety of texts that reading them again would be very interesting work. Although the advanced courses I selected were my first choices there are several others I would enjoy reading. The process of studying in this program is very rewarding and offers a treasured opportunity. Here are some notes about what to expect.

For me, starting the program with no particular knowledge of English and Comparative Literature or studying at degree level was very interesting. Learning how to approach texts in particular ways is challenging, but that is a good thing. Looking back, two of the first courses we study, Approaches to Text and Explorations in Literature, seem much more important to me now. These courses familiarize us with different critical approaches to texts and teach us how to apply these principles while reading a variety of literature. If I were starting our program today, I would focus on these two courses first and work to develop proficiency reading and applying theoretical and critical approaches to texts. For me, this skill becomes increasingly important as we progress through degree study. The sooner it is a comfortable skill the better off we are as students.

James Joyce quote on readers

For me, James Joyce describes the English Studies experience brilliantly.

One very interesting challenge about our course of study is learning how to take meaningful notes on primary texts over several readings and a year of study. I was a little slow coming to the party, as they say. Following the suggested plans in our study guides is the very best way to organize the amount of information we have to manage and its increasing complexity as the academic terms progress. When first starting out, it seemed impossible to follow the 22 week plan suggested in the study guides. By the end of my study, it seemed impossible to manage the courses any other way.

Sometimes it helps to remember that, when we are studying at degree level, we are using different reading skills than we do when reading strictly for pleasure. The information we must train ourselves to extract from each text means thinking about them in ways that are rather different from just, well, reading them. ‘What is this author doing and why’ is a very good question to keep in mind. To help sort out that question there are nine books that I would have on my shelf during degree study. More on those titles next week. For now, it is important to note that the process of reading is a very important part of studying English and Comparative Literature. Be prepared to read differently than you have in the past.

It is also important to expect to develop writing skills while studying in this program. That means you have to work at writing as well as reading and analyzing texts. For me, learning how to write was an important point in my decision to enroll in this course. There are many different ways to write, and almost as many ways to approach the task of writing as there are ways to approach reading. Developing academic writing skills is important to success in our program. You can also enjoy a creative writing course. For me, the skill set associated with effective academic writing is transferable to all of my various personal and professional writing projects.  I have always admired people who can organize information into usable forms and build arguments from what seems like random ideas. Thanks to this program, I have moved a step closer to becoming one of them.

Caowrites's bookshelf

It does take time to study, for me about 20 to 25 hours per week and sometimes more. My ‘reading budget’ is about six hundred pages per week. I am a bit of a slow reader, so using summer months to get ahead on primary reading is very important. It also means I can read a primary text a few times over the year, which is very, very helpful.
While there is a lot of support in our program, it is also self-directed. For me, this is hugely appealing, but it does mean we have to manage our efforts independently, find answers to questions, and make sure we are pursuing weekly or even daily study with the outcomes we expect to achieve in mind.

If you have questions about distance learning, the University of London International Programmes, or a specific course of study, you can contact alumni ambassadors in your area for their perspective and advice.

Happy Studies!

Caowrites is studying the BA English by distance learning with the University of London International Programmes. She lives in Pittsburgh in the United States.

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